The City of Winnipeg is seeking assurances the proposed Energy East oil pipeline poses no threat to its water supply.
Energy giant TransCanada has applied for federal permission to build a 4,600-kilometre pipeline that would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil every day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.
The Energy East proposal calls for the construction of new stretches of pipeline in Manitoba as well as the conversion of existing natural-gas pipelines to carry bitumen.
At a public meeting last week, the city expressed several initial concerns about the project. Chief among them is the proposed route calls for the oil pipeline to skirt the northern shore of Falcon Lake, which drains through Falcon River into Shoal Lake, the source of Winnipeg's drinking water.
'In the event of an oil spill, the bitumen would flow through Falcon Lake to Shoal Lake. Ensuring the integrity of our water supply is always our concern'
"In the event of an oil spill, the bitumen would flow through Falcon Lake to Shoal Lake," said Winnipeg's water and waste director, Diane Sacher.
"Ensuring the integrity of our water supply is always our concern."
The Winnipeg Aqueduct, which runs 137 kilometres from Indian Bay on Shoal Lake to the city, was completed in 1919. Cottage development along Falcon Lake led the city to construct a causeway and channel that divert the Falcon River outflow into Snowshoe Bay, which is south of Indian Bay and farther away from the Winnipeg Aqueduct intake.
This ensures any contamination of Falcon River would be diluted before its outflow has the potential to mingle with the waters of Indian Bay and enter the aqueduct intake.
Despite the indirect nature of the theoretical threat, the city and Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship plan to prepare a brief outlining environmental concerns and present it to the National Energy Board, which is in the early stages of considering the Energy East proposal.
TransCanada has already started talking to the city about its concerns, spokesman Philippe Cannon said in a statement.
"It is common knowledge that we are doing numerous analyses and assessments on land (and) the environment, and we are also conducting risk assessments," Cannon said.
"Special measures will be used when crossing rivers and other sensitive areas to help further protect the environment. Some of these include adding thicker-walled pipe and placing extra sensors and valve systems closer together in these important areas.
"We will also monitor the pipeline 24 hours a day with the ability to remotely shut it down within minutes anywhere along the route."
The concern about an oil pipeline alongside Falcon Lake versus the existing natural-gas pipeline is what happens after a spill.
Gas pipeline ruptures usually involve an explosion followed by the evaporation or combustion of the escaped methane. Crude oil does not disappear immediately following a spill.
"Obviously, if it's an oil spill, it's going to have a different type of impact on the environment than if it was gas," said Philippe Reicher, vice-president of external relations for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, speaking by phone from Calgary.
He noted all pipeline applications to the National Energy Board must include very specific emergency-response plans, tailored to every location along a pipeline.
The close proximity of the Trans-Canada Highway to the Energy East pipeline section proposed for the north side of Falcon Lake would be a benefit from an emergency-response perspective, he said.
Sacher said the city has also expressed concerns about a potential spill south of Winnipeg restricting access to the Brady Road Landfill -- and the potential for damage to the Winnipeg Aqueduct itself, farther east.
Submissions to the National Energy Board will not be completed until 2015, Sacher said. Energy East does not plan to be operational until 2018, according to TransCanada.